ATHENS — Aaron Murray was in town the weekend before last. It wasn’t for football. He came back to serve as one of the hosts for the annual Big Hearts Pageant put on by Extra Special People (ESP).
But as will come to no surprise to anyone who knows Georgia’s former star quarterback, who now is property of the Kansas City Chiefs, Murray did find some time to slip in some football. He went by UGA to visit with the Bulldogs’ new coaches, and one new quarterback in particular.
Murray spent a little bit of time with freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. And if it’s up to him, it’s something he’ll do as often as possible going forward.
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“We’ve talked,” said Murray, who is living in Atlanta during the offseason. “I’m interested in talking some more. We’ve texted and stuff, but I’m going to head up there a little bit during spring ball to watch everything, see how it’s going, talk to the coaches and players and stuff like there.”
They are sort of kindred spirits, Murray and Eason. Like Eason, Murray came to Georgia from as a highly-touted, out-of-state quarterback. And like Murray, much is expected of Eason.
It’s there, in the realm of expectations, that Eason blows away Murray.
Murray had the luxury of redshirting that first season. He and Zach Mettenberger both entered as early enrollees, but they did so with the full understanding that it was Joe Cox’s job. And Cox was backed up by redshirt sophomore Logan Gray. So the pressure to produce immediately was minimal, if not non-existent.
Not for Eason. He’s being touted almost like a sort of program savior. He, too, is set behind a couple of experienced upperclassmen in senior and 12-game starter Greyson Lambert and junior Brice Ramsey. But the thinking is Eason’s tremendous physical attributes — he’s nearly 6-foot-6 and weighs 220 pounds — and Georgia’s lack of production in the passing game last season makes him an ideal candidate to win the job as a true freshman.
Knowing what he knows about mastering offenses and playing against SEC defenses, this blows Murray’s mind a bit.
“There definitely is a lot of pressure,” Murray said as he drove back to Atlanta from a recent trip to Charleston. “Even me, I got to redshirt a year and then get in there and play. Still, being the quarterback for an SEC team, I mean, there’s a lot on your shoulders.
“I think this whole process has been, ‘Jacob’s going to come in and be this big hero for the program and we’re going to get back on top.’ So I think the biggest thing for him and the coaches is easing his way in. I think it’s great that he came in midyear and can get going a little bit, learn the playbook, earn the trust of his teammates and catch up with the speed of the game. Because there is a big, big jump from high school to college. So you don’t want to throw someone in the fire if they’re not ready to go.”
First-year head coach Kirby Smart insists Georgia will do nothing of the sort. In fact, his few public remarks about Eason have been to downplay the need for him to contribute right away.
“Pressure? Pressure? The pressure’s on me,” he said on National Signing Day. “If we don’t win it’s my fault. Why should Jacob have pressure on him? He’s a true freshman. How many true freshman have started in the SEC?”
There have been a few, but not many. Matthew Stafford was the last to do it at Georgia in 2006, and he did it in the third game of the season only because starter Joe Tereshinski was injured against South Carolina. Stafford actually lost the job to Cox, then again to Tereshinski before regaining it for good in the eighth game of the year.
Such a scenario would seem more realistic based on Smart’s remarks.
“Everybody’s expectations are that (Eason is) going to start, (that) he’s going to be the savior,” Smart said. “We’ve got two quarterbacks on our team competing for a job. He’s the third guy coming in to compete for the job. We want him to get better every day. We don’t want him to look at the end goal (as being) ‘Did I start or did I not start?’ That’s results.
“‘What do I have to do to get there?’ So let’s talk about the road he has to travel to get there and focus on that day-by-day. That’s what we want him to focus on. Sure, there’s expectations of the fans of that. There’s expectations of me. I want the kid to grow and get better because that’s what he needs to do for his career. And that’s what we sold him on in the (recruiting) process.”
Murray believes that’s a prudent position for Smart to take. He said he believes it’s possible for Eason to win the job and become the starter. But the key to doing that will be in completely engrossing himself in the playbook and knowing it every bit as well as the Bulldogs’ veteran quarterbacks.
Murray said the fact that Georgia is retooling under new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will help level the playing field for Eason. But there will be no substitute for simply studying the playbook and watching as much video as possible.
“Study, study, study, study,” Murray said. “Spring is going to be big for him to see if he’s ready to go. You can’t compete at your best if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s true in every aspect of life. If you don’t know the playbook and you get to the line of scrimmage and you’re having to think about, ‘OK, I need to do this and this and I need to do this instead if they show that,’ you’re in trouble. It has to become second nature where you come up to the line of scrimmage and you know your reads, you know the coverages, ‘set, hike!’ You see where the safeties and linebackers go and you know what your progressions are.
“It’s all repetition, and that’s the great thing about spring ball. They get so many practices and meetings. And summer you’ll have 7-on-7, and then camp. So there’s going to be lots of reps and lots of time to go over the playbook and go over plays. They’re not going to have to throw the whole thing at him right away.”
While Murray wasn’t subjected to quite the hype Eason has been so early in his career, one thing he can identify with is the tremendous notoriety being a quarterback at Georgia can bring. By the time he was a junior at UGA, Murray couldn’t go anywhere in downtown Athens without drawing a crowd.
And that can work both ways. When you win, everybody loves you; when you don’t, some want to send you packing.
He has two pieces some advice for Eason on that front:
On notoriety and popularity: “Just enjoy it. This is a fun time in your life. College is a great time. He just needs to enjoy it and have some fun. But otherwise, just work. The biggest thing I think, at least for me while I was there, is you have to earn the trust of your teammates, and you do that by how you work in the weight room and in the classroom. If you earn the trust of your guys, that goes a long way toward to becoming the leader of that team. As a quarterback you are looked at as a leader whether you want to or not, whether you’re a senior or a freshman. You have to show you’re ready to take control, so you have to work a little harder, stay a little longer.”
As for criticism: “My biggest thing is don’t read anything. Don’t pick up the paper. Don’t read the good stuff and don’t read the bad stuff. Just stay away from it all. Things are going to go bad at times, things are going be great at times. So you don’t want to be too full of yourself and you don’t want to get too down on yourself by reading this article or this post on this website from this fan. It’ll give you a headache and you start stressing yourself out. The best thing you can do is work hard. If you’re working hard and doing everything you can to be the best football player that you can and putting in 100 percent, at the end of the day that’s all you can do.
“Have fun, do your thing and just work hard. Hard work is the key to life. You gain the respect of others and you put yourself in the best situation to succeed.”
MORE FROM MURRAY …
Check back tomorrow morning for a Q&A with Georgia’s all-time leading passer.